The spread of COVID-19, which almost literally has terrified residents of some cities and counties, has reached record levels in terms of daily deaths, daily cases and hospitalizations. Nationwide, cases have reached 23,214,472, which is 204,683 higher than yesterday. Fatalities number 386,842, after a one-day gain of 3,552. Hospitalizations have topped 125,000. Experts predict as many as 700,000 people could die of the disease by April 1.
The spread and severity of COVID-19 vary sharply by location. States such as Hawaii and Vermont have not been as hard hit as most of the nation. It has flared up at a rapid pace in places like North and South Dakota.
One measure of how hard hit a place has become is cases and deaths per 1,000 or 100,000 people, based on which yardstick seems more pertinent to the situation and population size. One detailed measure is new cases in the past two weeks, broken down per 1,000 residents. Among all cities in America, the worst off by this measure is Athens, Texas, where the figure is 180.5. That is much higher than the next city on the list, which is Eagle Pass, Texas, which is 400 miles to the southwest and has a figure of 156.3.
Athens sits southeast of Dallas and north of Houston. It covers 874 square miles, about four times the size of Detroit, which has a population of 700,000.
The population breakdown of Athens is 78% white, 6% Black and 13% Hispanic. The city’s median household income is $51,521, which is well below the national average of $65,712. People who live below the poverty line are 18.5% of the population, well above the national 12.3% rate.
The median value of owner-occupied homes is $119,800, well below the national figure of $240,500.
The city has two large hospitals: UTHealth East Texas and East Texas Medical Center Athens.
The city was first hit months ago. According to the Athens Daily Review, on April 6, “The Northeast Texas Public Health District has identified a positive case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the City of Athens. The test result was confirmed by the Public Health Lab of East Texas.”
The only silver lining for Athens is that the hardest-hit place in America eventually drops down the list as the worst of COVID-19 spreads elsewhere. However, that is no comfort.